Old Kernville aka Whiskey Flat (No. 132 California Historical Landmark)

Whiskey Flat began as a place for those seeking their fortunes in the Big Blue Gold Mine in the Southern Sierra Nevada on the Kern River in 1860. Alcohol was not allowed at the mine site, so an industrious fellow threw a plank across a couple of whiskey barrels down on the flat south of the mine and so named it Whiskey Flat.

A few years later in 1864 the name was changed by the people of the growing town to the less wild and woolly name of Kernville. Named after the artist Edward M. Kern who had accompanied Captain Joseph Walker in the expedition in 1843. Families were moving in and it was no longer fitting to have the name associated with "demon rum," as the ladies of the town called it.

Old Kernville now lies at the bottom of the Isabella Reservoir that was created by a dam on the Kern River. The reservoir was built between 1948 and 1953, leaving nothing of the once thriving community behind.  Most of the residents of the Kern Valley were in shock when they were told their homes were in the way of a new lake and they had to find a new home and make new roots.

Even the California State Historical Marker No. 132 for Old Kernville was moved. You can find it about 1 mile north, at the entrance of the Old Kernville Historic Cemetery and it reads:

           This monument moved from old Kernville
           And rededicated May 3, 1953 by
           Kern River Chamber of Commerce
           Kern River Veterans Club
           Kern River V.F.W.
           Kern County Historical Society
           Kern County Museum

           California Historical Landmark
           Kernville called Whiskey Flat until 1864, was founded in 1860 when Adam Hamilton a
           whiskey dealer moved shop here from for more temperature Quartzburg, founded
           earlier that year. Both camps resulted by the discovery of “The Big Blue Ledge” by
Lovely Rogers while tracking a stray mule from the earlier camp of Keyesville.
           Dedicated April 18, 1937
           Kern River Chamber of Commerce
           Department of Natural Resources Reg. No.132
           State of California

The entire towns of Kernville and Isabella were to be under water when the dam was completed. And so it was.

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Latitude: 35.7157728 Longitude: -118.4364635 Elevation: 2588 ft
the best travel advice comes from the people who live here
Barbara Hinkey



Welcome to Old Kernville.

Picture a quiet and quaint historic community with huge cotton wood tees, feathery willows, gardens and front porches with the magnificent Kern River running through it. There were people here. There was life here. It survived explorers, massacres, gold rushes, massive floods and tourism, but it could not survive progress and now sits in silence with very little to let one know that it was even here.

When the waters of Isabella Reservoir are low enough, some of the remnants of Old Kernville are exposed and appear as tombstones. The elementary school and the old Methodist Church foundations are the most prominent features left from those years. A walk through the ghost-like surroundings fill one with magical visions of what it once was as a piece of pottery shard is discovered, an old metal pipe sticking up from the lake bottom, a piece of rock wall appearing lost in the silt or maybe even a rusted bolt or faucet catches ones eye. History continues even though it appears to be gone.

Old Movie Street is gone where Hollywood filmed some of the best western movies ever, featuring the best of the best. John Wayne, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes, Yvonne DeCarlo, Hoot Gibson and Gene Autry.

The bridge is gone. Bert James Store is gone. The Barber Shop is gone. The Telephone Company is gone. The Post Office disappeared up river. Riverside Beach is under 60 years of lake silt. There were two gas stations, a general store, more than one saloon, a small doctors office and 3 bed hospital, tended by the doctors wife. The malt shop was torn down, the motel moved, old cabins and houses burned or bulldozed away into heaps of rubble. Many of the structures were moved up river to the present day site of “Kernville,” that was part of the Burlando Ranch. Some buildings were moved to a new community on the Wofford Ranch, and it is now present day Wofford Heights.

Old Kernville was alive with flavor, history and family life. The Kern River has been its stability throughout the years. Old Kernville has been gone for almost 60 years, but it thrives in the memories of those who lived there, grew up there, helped to move it, watched as it disappeared and now do what they can to keep it alive.

The most complete collection of books, artifacts, photos and stories of Old Kernville is housed in the Kern Valley Museum in Kernville.


I was born in that ole’ town and spent many days in the new Kernville. Ruth and Jack Hinkey were my grandparents and I know that their hearts cried out as they watched their town sink below the water. Their heart is what made the new Kernville the place it is today. Awesome job Barbara Lynn

Rex Raymond Hinkey, 5/16/2011

Wonderful history! The old Kernville-Isabella Jail was moved first to "New" Kernville then to Silver City Ghost Town in nearby Bodfish. Also now at Silver City is the famous Apalatea-Burlando house which was once one of the few homes in present day Kernville (aka Whiskey Flat). Visit these and other historic structures from the Kern Valley here at Silver City Ghost Town on the Geotourism Mapguide and in person when visiting Whiskey Flat!

J Paul Corlew Curator Director Silver City Ghost Town, 6/18/2011

My Great grandmother and grandmother lived in Old Kernville. My Great grandmother’s name was Ellen Cisternas & her daughter's name was Linda Cisternas. They told me many stories about Old Kernville. Years later she built her home in Kernville which is still there. Her husband Erine built it himself. I was there this Oct 24, 2014 and was shocked to see the lake so low. Ellen Cisternas is buried in old Kernville Cemetary. My Great Great grandfather is there. His name was Apalata. I wish I could go back in time to have been there. I heard so many stories about the Friday night barn dances. Guess those were the good ol' days. Great grandma Ellen had a good friend named Red Vega. He's buried in Old Kernville cemetary.

Ron Blue & Vickie Blue, 10/29/2014

A very dear friend by the name of lint Worlds came from this area. He is was a western artist from New Mexico. As a kid I watched him paint many paintings that were from this area. Many times he would talk about a ranch called South Fork. I have a bvook published by him, and many of the illustrations are of his days working on the numerous ranches in the area in the day. I remember him saying his father had the old general store, post office was inside. Looking for all material I can find, or trace of his years there.

Cecil T. Compton, 12/28/2015

That old general store with the post office inside has to be the ONYX Store...It still Stands, on Hwy 178, Onyx, last time I remember it being open was at least 5 years back, maybe longer, the Indians owned it then...And it’s on the South Fork...

Darrell Lane, 2/14/2016

My grandparents, Jack A. and Anne S. Crawford bought the Faye ranch in the 30’s. Renamed it the Quarter Circle Five Ranch and I have 20 + years of fond memories there. Used to drive to "Ewings on the Kern" for dinner and drinks. Jack Ewing was a great business man and a great steak house.

Jack A. Crawford, 02/19/2016, 2/19/2016

I lived in Kernville through my early years Watched Roy Rogers make one of his films. Cows would take over the streets at sun down ; Fun to watch. My music career stasrted here. My grandfather was a dealer at the local saloon

Marjorie Bates Ehrhardt, 5/11/2016

Well there are definitely odd things that still go on there, we saw entities in our Escape Spa stay...clearly.

Cheryl, 6/24/2016

My daughter, Rita Jean Gerard, was buried in the old cemetery; in the furthest right corner, in the 1950's ; overlooking the river...as it flows into the lake.

Roy J. Gerard, 3/5/2017

I lived in old Kernville and watched Roy Rogers make a film in the make shift movie town

Marjorie Bates Ehrhardt, 8/20/2017

Spent my childhood summers in Kernville in the 1960's and 1970's. My grandmother Gladys Barnes owned the local restaurant called the Cozy Corner Cafe and my Grandfather owned Barnes's sporting goods. Great memories at the restaurant where the old movie stars would come in and eat while filming in the area. If anyone has any photos of her place, her or my grandfather, it would be greatly appreciated! My email is karen94401@yahoo.com

Karen Barnes, 7/17/2018

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